Othello Act 1 Summary

  • Act 1 begins with with Roderigo criticising Iago for not telling him about the marriage between Desdemona and Othello. Iago tells him that he did not know about the marriage and that he hates Othello, despite the fact that he is his ensign.
  • We learn that Iago hates Othello because he promoted Michael Cassio to the role of lieutenant despite the fact that he has no military experience. He tells Roderigo that he plans to use his position with Othello to bring him down. “I follow him to serve my turn upon him.”
  • Both men go to Barbantio (Desdemona’s father) to tell him about his daughter’s marriage in the hope that he can do something about it.
  • Under the cloak of darkness, Iago shouts to Barbantio that he has been robbed and for him to check for his daughter. When he won’t listen, Iago uses vulgar sexual language telling him that his daughter is “covered with a barbary horse” and “an old black ram is tupping your white ewe.” Iago then disappears before he is spotted so that his loyalty cannot be questioned.
  • Roderigo tells Barbantio about the marriage and Barbantio is horrified, believing that Othello must have put a spell on his daughter. They go in search of the moor and Desdemona.
  • At the beginning of the Act 1, Scene 2 Iago rushes to tell Othello that Barbantio knows about the marriage and that he wanted to kill him because of how he spoke about Othello. We see how convincing he is when lying to Othello.
  • Othello is adamant that he is deeply in love with Desdemona and tells us that he comes from a royal family so class is not an issue. “Being from men of royal siege.” In the distance, lights emerge and it is Cassio who has come to tell Othello that the duke needs to see him.
  • As Othello gets ready to go to see the duke, Barbantio and Roderigo enter the scene and Barbantio accuses Othello of being a thief. They draw swords, which shows just how tense the situation is and that the men of this era will use violence if necessary.
  • Iago, intent on showing his loyalty to Othello challenges Roderigo to a duel, again highlighting his devious nature. Barbantio accuses Othello of using black magic and says that there is no way that she would have shunned the men in the city to end up marrying someone like Othello. “Run from her guardage to the sooty bosom of such a thing as thou.”
  • Barbantio is informed that the Duke is waiting for Othello and that he is also required for a meeting. Barbantio agrees to go with them to the duke who he says will take his side.
  • “For if such actions may have passage free, Bond-Slaves and pagans shall our statesmen be.” Barbantio believes that people should ‘know their station’ and that Othello is not worthy of marrying his wife.
  • In Act 1 Scene 3, Othello tells the Duke and Barbantio how Desdemona came to fall in love with him. He tells them that Barbantio used to invite him over to hear his tales of battle and how he was sold into slavery as a child but won his freedom. He says that Desdemona would ‘come back again with a greedy ear, devour up my discourse.” 
  • He explains that Desdemona fell in love with him for the dangers he had survived and that his stories were the only witchcraft he had used. The Duke, believing Othello’s story says that his own daughter would be won over by this and urges Barbantio to accept what has happened.
  • Desdemona confirms the story and says that like her mother before her, she must now transfer her obedience to her husband at the expense of her father. The Duke tells Barbantio that it is pointless worrying about something that he has already lost but Barbantio asks him if he would have the same attitude if he lost Cyprus to the Turks.
  • The Duke tells Othello that he is the only man to lead the battle in Cyprus and that he must go as soon as possible. Othello agrees but only if his wife is well looked after. Desdemona asks the Duke if she could accompany Othello and Othello is eager for her to join him.
  • The Duke agrees and Othello places his wife in the care of Iago, who he calls a “man of honesty and trust.” He tells Iago to have his wife attend to Desdemona.
  • Iago and Roderigo talk as the others exit. Iago is furious with Roderigo who is threatening to kill himself. He tells Roderigo to sell everything he has and turn it into cash and to be ready when Othello’s marriage breaks down. “When she is sated with his body she will find the errors of her choice.” Iago says, “let us be conjunctive in our revenge against him,” meaning let’s work together to bring him down.
  • At the end of the scene, Iago gives the first soliloquy of the play. “Thus do I ever make my fool my purse.” He tells us that he always gets money from fools. We find out that there is a rumour that Othello slept with Iago’s wife, which he can’t prove but that he still wants to avenge.
  • We then hear his plot which involves the handsome Cassio who he is going to use to come between Othello and Desdemona. “To abuse Othello’s ear that he is too familiar with his wife.” We then see how he’ll use Othello’s honesty against him. “The Moor is of a free and open nature that thinks men honest that but seems to be so.
  • The act ends with Iago’s soliloquy, which tells the audience that he intends to ruin Othello by any means necessary.

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